This post demonstrates a serverless, cloud-based approach to building a network performance analytics solution using AWS services that can provide flexibility and performance while keeping costs under control with pay-per-use AWS services.
Without good network performance, you may struggle to face the challenges of real-time and low latency services and the increase of the total bandwidth your customers consume.
Considering the large volume of data that you need to ingest, store, and process every second for optimal performance monitoring, standard on-premises monitoring approaches are no longer efficient.
A cloud-native approach allows you to invest in the solutions that generate business value and move from the typical capital expenditure model to an operational expenditure model by avoiding upfront costs and over-provisioning of infrastructure.
Data and voice network complexity for mobile service providers
According to Cisco’s global mobile data traffic forecast, there will be 13.1 billion mobile-connected devices by 2023, and 1.4 billion of those will be 5G capable.
As a mobile service provider, you must understand how to perform accurate network planning and sizing for your access and core networks.
The increase in the global demand for network throughput and the number of services such as VoLTE, IoT, and video streaming on mobile networks is forcing mobile service providers to implement new architectures to match the desired quality of service (QoS).
Addressing optimal QoS when a multitude of services are running on a converged network is not an easy task. The workflow is complex, starting from collecting counters and statistics data from a multitude of different network elements to transforming the collected data into key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can link to the quality of one of the multiple services delivered over the network.
Modern mobile networks, with deployment of 4G, 5G, and IoT services, have given rise to an increased number of cells that are deployed on the territory, so you must collect counters and generate KPIs on thousands of different network elements.
Considering that every network element can generate a few thousand counters, the network performance system has to manage millions of measurements at every collection cycle.
This is difficult to manage at scale with on-premises deployments without a high-cost solution. Instead, you can use AWS services to design a modern network performance analytics solution that covers all the requirements of different departments of telecommunications service providers (TSPs).
Data and voice network architecture
The main problem that you may face as a service provider is the complexity of modern mobile networks, which originate from several evolutions of communication standards in the last few decades (from 2G to 5G for data core, from CS to VoLTE for voice core) and the hardware and capabilities of the network elements.
The following diagram illustrates a simplified schema of a mobile wireless network element currently deployed, where you can find:
- Access network, with the network elements needed for the coverage from 2G to 5G
- Core Network, that includes the network elements for all the functions needed to deliver the services, the authentication and the database of all the users on the network
- Services delivered by the network, that includes Voice (PSTN/PLMN), Internet (data service ) and Application Services
IoT network architecture and service differentiation
The IoT traffic paradigm is completely different from the traffic patterns of smartphone and tablets. These mobile devices normally open an always on session (PDP context or bearer) and generate a considerable amount of user plane traffic. An IoT device opens a session, sends few bytes, and closes the session to limit the power consumption and avoid allocating resources on cells when not necessary.
The following diagram depicts a real-world use case in which a service provider deploys IoT services, in most cases, IoT traffic is delivered to a different 4G core for the following reasons:
- EPC optimization needed to manage IoT traffic
- Avoiding IoT traffic managed by the same core network of customers’ traffic for security reasons
- IoT devices generate huge volumes of control plane traffic that can impact customer performance if managed by the same network
This usage pattern requires a different traffic model and forces mobile service providers to perform firmware upgrades to the current cells or deploy new cells into the network. This has an impact on the QoS due to the increase in the number of counters and cells.
What is network performance, and why is it important?
You can use network performance monitoring systems to generate reports and insights and track network performance. Multiple organizations like Operations, Network Planning, and Engineering use these tools to view the overall quality of networks and services and control important KPIs like availability, response times, and download and upload speeds.
Network performance is strictly connected to the QoS that, by definition, is the mechanism to control the performance, reliability, and usability of a telecommunications service.
Pain points for service providers
Every vendor of network elements usually also provides the element managers for the hardware. These systems are proprietary, but most of the time, they comply with the standard provided by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for the XML file format of the performance measurement (PM) files to export the counters you need to measure network performance accurately.
Service providers normally also use multiple vendors for core and access network elements, so monitoring a non-heterogenous environment is one of the main challenges in today’s deployments.
Data types and 3GPP standards
Counters and statistics about the performance on a network element are exported in PM files. 3GPP standardized the format in a specific document, which you can download from the 3GPP website.
The network vendor is not guaranteed to follow this standard, but even if there are some customizations, the structure and format in most cases remain very similar to the open standard.
The following schema from 3GPP describes the XML format for PM that is exported from network elements.
The XML schema root element is “measCollectFile” and it has three child elements:
- “fileHeader”: contains information such as file sender and the beginning time of the measurements.
- “fileFooter”: contains the end time of the measurements.
- “measData”: contains all the measurements information such as measurement types and their values.
The most important tags are:
- measInfo – Contains the family of the measurements, the granularity, and the counters list for each measValue
- measValue – Contains multiple measResults with the results of the measurements
Building a network performance solution on AWS
In this section we describe a possible architecture that can be used to implement the solution on AWS following a serverless approach.
To implement this solution, you must have the following prerequisites:
- An AWS account in the same Region
- The AdministratorAccess policy granted to your AWS account (for production, you should restrict access as needed)
This post uses the EU (Ireland) Region. However, you can choose another Region of your choice where the following services are available:
- AWS Transfer for SFTP
- Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose
- Amazon S3
- AWS Lambda
- AWS Glue
- Amazon Athena
- Amazon QuickSight
For more information about AWS Regions and where AWS services are available, see Region Table.
The following diagram illustrates the high-level, end-to-end solution and the AWS services it uses, the workflow begins with the ingestion of the files using SFTP or Kinesis Data Firehose, data is stored in S3 and processed with a Lambda function and Glue to create a data catalog. Data querying is done with Athena and the visualization in Quicksight.
Collecting data using Kinesis Data Firehose or AWS SFTP
For information about collecting PM files via element managers, see chapter 5 of Technical Specification 3GPP TS 31.432 on the 3GPP website.
Element managers act as collectors of XML measurement files that the network elements provide. They can send the files to an S3 bucket via AWS SFTP or Kinesis Data Firehose.
For the data transfer, you can refer to the following documentation about creating a Kinesis Firehose Delivery Stream and sending data to Kinesis Firehose Delivery Stream, or If you are planning to use SFTP transfer, you can read here how AWS Transfer for SFTP works.
Transforming data using a Lambda function
This post provides a Lambda function that is associated with the ObjectCreated event type of the destination S3 bucket rawxml prefix (s3://wireless-pm/rawxml). The function runs every time a new XML file is saved in this location.
The Lambda function is written in Python 3.7. You can download it from the GitHub repository for this blog post. The function uses a layer to resolve the dependency for the xmltodict library used in the code.
The following screenshot of the AWS Management Console shows some of the main properties of the Lambda function
- The Lambda name and its associated Lambda Layer.
- The S3 bucket trigger event on the ObjectCreated event.
The function transposes the XML files, converts them into CSV or JSON (depending on the value set in the function’s output_format environment variable), and formats the files with one record per measurement (measData), measure type, and value (measInfo). The technical specification 3GPP TS 32.435 document on the 3GPP website provides three example XML files in the Annex section.
The following code is an example A.1 XML file:
The Lambda function transforms the preceding file into the following JSON format (this code example only shows the first record of the transformed and transposed dataset):
You can change the output field names in the get_record_header static method of the GPPXml class defined in the Lambda function. The fields md_mi_meas_name and md_mi_meas_value contain the measure name and measure value, respectively.
The transformed CSV and JSON files are saved in the raw_transform_csv and raw_transform_json prefixes, respectively, in the S3 bucket (only one format is created for each execution, depending on the value of the output_format environment variable). The following screenshot shows the S3 bucket overview on the Amazon S3 console.
For this use case, a Lambda function is triggered for the transformation task every time a new XML file arrives. Depending on the volume and size of the XML files, you can choose other compute options on AWS based on the right fit, such as in containers using AWS Batch, Amazon ECS, or Amazon EKS. For more information about configuring and running processes using Amazon ECS, see Building, deploying, and operating containerized applications with AWS Fargate.
Alternatively, you could ingest the raw XML file using a Kinesis Firehose stream with a Lambda function attached to it to transform the data to JSON and output directly to Amazon S3 in Parquet or ORC format using the record format conversion feature of Kinesis Firehose. You would need to predefine a table in the Data Catalog whose schema, serializer, and deserializer you use to convert the data.
Building a Data Catalog using AWS Glue
To create an AWS Glue table in the Data Catalog, first create an AWS Glue crawler. Complete the following steps:
- Select AWS Glue from the services in the AWS Console.
- Select Crawlers in the left side menu.
- Click the button “Add Crawlers”.
- For Crawler name, enter a name for your crawler; for example, Wireless_PM_crawler.
- Choose Next.
- For Choose a data store, choose S3.
- For Crawl data in, select Specified path in my account.
- For Include path, enter the path to the input files in CSV format.
- Choose Next.
- In the Choose an IAM role section, select Choose an existing IAM role.
- For IAM role, enter the name of your role to grant read permission to access the S3 bucket.
- Choose Next.The following code is the AWSGlueServiceRole-S3 IAM policy for this post:
- In the Choose the crawler’s output section, for Database, choose the database in which the Data Catalog table is created; for example, wireless_pm.
- Choose Next.In these next steps, you create an ETL job that converts from CSV to Parquet (a columnar file format) and writes the Parquet files to an S3 bucket. Parquet file format helps with performance of the downstream consumption of the data. To convert to Parquet, you can either use an AWS Glue generated script (which this post uses) or use your own PySpark or Scala script.
- In the Configure the job properties section, for Name, enter wireless_pm_parquet_conversion.
- For IAM role, enter AWSGlueServiceRole-wirelesspm
- For Type, choose Spark.
- For Glue version, choose Spark 2.4, Python 3 (Glue Version 1.0).
- For This job runs, select A proposed script generated by AWS Glue.
- For Script file name, enter wireless_pm_parquet_conversion.
- In the Choose a data target section, select Create tables in your data target.
- For Data store, choose Amazon S3.
- For Format, choose Parquet.
- For Target path, enter the path to your S3 bucket.
- Choose Next.
You can configure a trigger to start the job by creating a workflow in AWS Glue that runs the job after the crawler. When the job is complete, a new set of Parquet files are stored in the destination S3 bucket.
You can analyze the processed data directly with Athena by selecting the database created in AWS Glue, and analyzing the data from the AWS Glue table.
The following screenshot shows the AWS Glue database and the two tables created.
The following screenshot shows an example Athena query, which you can run by selecting a few columns to validate the data from the Data Catalog table you created.
Visualizing data using Amazon QuickSight
Amazon QuickSight is a business analytics service you can use to build visualizations, perform ad hoc analysis, and get business insights from your data. For more information, see What Is Amazon QuickSight?
Amazon QuickSight provides out-of-the-box integration with Athena, which lets you run SQL queries on top of the metadata in your Data Catalog. For more information, see Creating a Data Set Using Amazon Athena Data.
The following screenshot shows an Amazon QuickSight analysis created from an Amazon QuickSight dataset. The dataset is based on the table that AWS Glue defined, and you query it via Athena.
You can create a visualization by loading the example dataset of PM counters. For example, the following screenshot shows the measurement values for the GPRS SuccessAttach and AbortedAttach and highlights a problem.
This post discussed the main pain points for wireless service providers and how AWS services can help you build a serverless solution that scales according to your network growth with no upfront costs.
This solution also helps you visualize and analyze data. Additionally, it provided insights that can help operations and network planning departments manage and evolve their network according to current and future standards and services.
As always, AWS welcomes feedback. Please submit comments or questions in the comments section.
About the Authors
Angelo Sampietro is a senior partner solutions architect at Amazon Web Services. Angelo has a strong background in cloud computing, with 20 years of experience in the Telecommunications industry, working in the United States and Europe. With 5 AWS Certifications, including Big Data and Machine Learning Specialties, he currently works as Senior Partner Solutions Architect, helping Global System Integrators to be successful in the partnership with AWS. He loves to share new ideas with colleagues and friends and propose new solutions thinking out of the box.
Francesco Marelli is a senior solutions architect at Amazon Web Services. He has lived and worked in London for 10 years, after that he has worked in Italy, Switzerland and other countries in EMEA. He is specialized in the design and implementation of Analytics, Data Management and Big Data systems, mainly for Enterprise and FSI customers. Francesco also has a strong experience in systems integration and design and implementation of web applications. He loves sharing his professional knowledge, collecting vinyl records and playing bass.